NKLA = MASSIVE MARKETING + “SHELTER MATH” *
What is NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles)? According to their website, www.nkla.org/About, their plan is straightforward: provide spay/neuter services where they are needed most so that fewer animals go into shelters, and increase adoptions so that more animals are placed into new homes.
Other than a massive marketing campaign, complete with billboards and posters at bus stops and other locations throughout Los Angeles, nobody really knows what Best Friends is doing to make Los Angeles a no kill community. Based on my correspondence with Marc Peralta, Executive Director of Best Friends Animal Society – Los Angeles, it seems that Best Friends intends to keep it that way.
From what I can tell, NKLA relies heavily on shipping animals out of Los Angeles. In the animal rescue world, it’s known as transporting. In the real world, it’s making LA’s homeless animals someone else’s problem. As long as the animals aren’t killed in LA, Best Friends can chalk up more points for its NKLA initiative and Los Angeles Animal Services’ General Manager, Brenda Barnette, can artificially inflate that agency’s success rates by counting the transported animals as “adoptions” even though they have not gone to permanent homes. It looks great on paper, but it raises a number of questions that will likely only be answered with judicial intervention. Higher “live outcome” figures make for great advertising and make both Best Friends and Los Angeles Animal Services look better if the only thing that matters is getting animals out the door.
What happens to the animals once they leave LA? Apparently Best Friends doesn’t want to talk about that. Where do the animals go? Apparently Best Friends doesn’t want to talk about that either. They might go to no kill facilities in other states, but Best Friends and LAAS aren’t telling. Exporting animals to other communities only gives the illusion that animals are being saved in LA “shelters”. In the meantime, what happens to the animals that are in the receiving facilities? Or to the animals in high-kill facilities in those communities? Are local animals being killed in other communities to make room for the imports from LA? It’s really nothing more than a shell game and is beneficial if the priority is to increase numbers of animals getting out of LA facilities alive no matter what.
In February of this year, Best Friends sent out an e-mail newsletter with “Huge No Kill News”. The newsletter claims that Best Friends and its NKLA Coalition Partners have reduced the killing of healthy and treatable animals by nearly 50%. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? It’s really not. In fact, it’s really not even true.
Words like “healthy” and “treatable” (and others like “adoptable”) are terms of art and have become very common in the lexicon of shelter management and others employing “Shelter Math” as an alternative to actual improvement. Why make real changes when you can change the accounting instead? In recent years, bad shelter managers and others have simply changed their accounting methods to give the appearance of shelter reform. Using words like “healthy” and “treatable” allows them to kill the animals that don’t make the cut while still claiming to save lives based on words that they refuse to define.
* “SHELTER MATH” = a type of calculation created by management and marketing personnel for poorly run animal “shelters” (and related organizations) that gives the illusion of reform and improvement while maintaining the status quo. Typically it involves re-naming columns/rows of data and/or creating entirely new categories for the purposes of making inflated claims of success in reducing the killing of animals.
After reading the Huge No Kill News from Best Friends, I sent a letter to Marc Peralta to ask him for further information about how they achieved such great success. Best Friends claims that its NKLA initiative can serve as a model for communities across the nation, so it seems perfectly reasonable to ask how they do it. Among other things, I thought it reasonable to ask for written definitions for words like healthy and treatable as used by Best Friends. My letter is below:
Mr. Peralta responded in an e-mail on February 21, 2014, on which he copied an attorney in Utah, Joan M. Andrews. It strikes me as odd that he felt the need to contact an attorney just because someone was asking for information about the NKLA program. In any event, in his e-mail he gave a pathetic excuse for not providing any information. He says, “Due to our already demanding workload, we are unable to dedicate staff time to respond to individual requests for records such as this one.” He then told me to contact Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) for the information I requested. The fact is, I’ve been requesting records about the NKLA program and transfers of animals between LAAS and Best Friends since November 2012 and have yet to receive a response of any kind from LAAS, much less any records.
I couldn’t have been less impressed with Mr. Peralta’s response. It seems to me that a reputable organization would gladly provide information to support its claims of such stellar success. After all, a 50% reduction in killing of animals is practically a miracle. Why wouldn’t Best Friends want to tell the world HOW they did it? T o that end, I wanted to give Mr. Peralta another chance to explain, so I followed up with an e-mail.
Mr. Peralta responded a few days later with some classic “Shelter Math” in a bizarre attempt to explain how Best Friends had arrived at the 50% reduction in killing figure. His explanation is so convoluted that no matter how many times I read it, I’m still surprised at the creativity it took to concoct such a result. I suspect that the average person reading the “Huge No Kill News” would not think for a second that there were any such calculations involved. Nor should anyone have to think that. The concept should be straight-forward. It shouldn’t require a lengthy explanation based almost entirely on hypothetical outcomes and wishful thinking. But, alas, it does.
This is directly from Mr. Peralta’s e-mail to me:
As described on the NKLA website: http://nkla.org/ProblemSolution, we used the commonly accepted threshold of a no-kill community – a 90% save rate ( see also Outthefrontdoor.com). We are committed to ending the killing for lack of space or safe place to call home for 90% of all live cats and dogs entering LAAS which we have called in that release, healthy or treatable pets and calculated the number of additional lives that would need to have been saved in 2011 to for LA to have been a no-kill city by that definition. The number was approximately 17,000. In 2013, the number of addition lives needed to be saved for LA to be considered no kill was approximately 9,000. The reason we looked at the calculation by numbers remaining to be saved, was to provide a target number rather than a percentage in order to give those committed to this campaign a “lives-to-be-saved” goal which we feel is more immediate and compelling than a percentage.
So the metrics are as follows:
2011: 23,012 cats and dogs killed – 5,614 euthanized for medical/behavioral (10% of 56,138 live intakes) = 17,398 healthy/treatable pets killed
2012: 18, 792 cats and dogs killed – 5,416 euthanized for medical/behavioral (10% of 54,157 live intakes) = 13,376 healthy/treatable pets killed
2013: 14,085 cats and dogs killed – 5,002 euthanized for medical/behavioral (10% of 50,020 live intakes) = 9,083 healthy/treatable pets killed
(The live intake number is the total intake on the LAAS website for cats and dogs minus dead on arrivals or DOAs)
Hope that helps.”
How is that supposed to help? All it helps is to see that Best Friends’ claim is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. See how many times you have to read it until it even begins to make sense. Why should anyone need such a complicated “metric” to decipher what is presented as a very simple claim? Why wasn’t this explanation included in the “Huge No Kill News”, even as a footnote? Could it be because it would expose the truth, that the 50% reduction in killing is really not what it appears to be on its face? Or maybe Best Friends really doesn’t want its donors to know that it uses Shelter Math to formulate its claims of success.
Whatever the reason, I thought I would give Mr. Peralta another chance to provide the records I requested. I don’t think it’s too much to ask him what happens to the animals or to define words like “healthy” and “treatable”. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that Best Friends would have those definitions in writing to avoid any misinterpretation.
Here is his reply, patronizing as it is:
Given the response from Mr. Peralta it’s very clear that Best Friends is not going to give me any information to back up its claims, at least not voluntarily. That complete and total lack of transparency doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about Best Friends and only makes me more suspicious of what’s beyond the marketing.
It’s time for TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY. Contact LA city officials to ask for information about what is happening behind closed doors with Best Friends and LAAS, particularly with the NKLA initiative. The Los Angeles City Council has a Personnel and Animal Welfare (PAW) Committee that meets on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 3:00 in Room 1050 of City Hall. Contact information for the members of the PAW Committee is: